The Turkana is a five-story mixed-use building, designed by the Italian architectural firm Nicole Cieri Architects. It houses the headquarters of Elmi Olindo Contractors Plc, a leading firm in Ethiopia with over 70 years of experience in the field of construction.
The design process began in 2010, when the client expressed the need to expand their offices, due to the constant growth of the company, and presented the architects with a 550sqm plot of land located in the Lideta neighborhood, not far from the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC).
The square lot is in between two pre-existing buildings, with the main access from a newly built road on the East side, while on the West side it opens onto an empty plot of land. The outcome for such a regular space, maximizing the use of land, is a compact volume, with a clear and regular distribution of functions inside.
At the ground floor, there is a central core for technical rooms to place the generators and water pumps, with parking slots for the managers aligned to it on both east and west sides. Also, two staircases allow for two different paths: both located on the north side, the main staircase connects the whole building and is reserved for the head office and the upper floors apartments; the other smaller staircase leads to the first floor, where the payroll offices are located. This separation was a specific request from the client, to avoid interferences between the day-to-day office routine in the administrative and technical departments and the flow of employers lining up for salary or for other employer-workers relations. The second and third floors house the main offices: the second floor is for the accountant division, with a cafeteria and a kitchenette, while the third floor is for the manager’s and technical offices, plus a fifteen people meeting room.
On the last two floors, there is a guest-house: four apartments intended for consultants or foreigner technicians that might spend limited periods in Addis Ababa to participate in any of the company’s projects. Each floor includes two apartments, a smaller one which is 160sqm and a bigger one, which is 180sqm. The fifth floor is slightly different because of a central courtyard, that provides a protected open-air space and allows more natural light to enter the living room.
On the roof, there are four storage rooms, one for each apartment, plus a laundry room with a terrace for drying racks.
The construction method adopted is the most diffuse in Addis Ababa, consisting of a structure made of reinforced concrete columns and beams, with hollow concrete bricks walls.
As the architects had to work with a very regular and narrow plot of land, to achieve a more dynamic and distinctive architecture, they decided to strongly characterize the two main elevations. Here, the façade unwinds, like a ribbon, creating a second layer wrapped around the central body of the building.
To carry out this idea, very large custom-shaped reinforced concrete beams have been used. On the East and West elevations, in correspondence with the main offices, the façade detaches itself from the main core, so the beams define balconies that serve both as informal break area and as a shield from solar radiation. This is a theme that repeats itself in the whole building: on the north side elevation, to highlight the importance of the main entrance there is a full-height void, right next to the transparent glass box that house the main staircase. Here, two very long custom-shaped beams run free, from side to side, connecting the East and West façade: in this way, voids are created, to make the whole architecture lighter and more dynamic, but at the same time the façade maintains its continuity all around the building, like a second layer that embraces the main core and holds it together.
The same constructive technology is applied for the extruded window boxes on the upper floors. Every window is framed in a concrete box, jutting out from the façade, anchored from slab to slab. The result is a sculptural façade, in which the volumes that emerge or retract form pleasant plays of light and shadow.
The design aimed to strongly characterize the building and make it stand out in the neighborhood: to do so, color plays an important role. The use of contrasting shades, warmer and brighter for the ribbon and darker for the central volume, also accentuates the distinction between the two different levels of the façade.
The core is of a dark gray tint because is conceived as a central pillar that must almost disappear. On the other hand, as the ribbon is the architectural element that gives personality to the building, it must be bright and visually effective. A warm shade of orange was chosen, to emphasize the effect of sunlight on it, both at sunrise and sunset. Ultimately, the plaster’s rough finishing gives a more vibrant texture to the surface.
While all the finishing materials are imported, including plaster and the large-size Italian porcelain stoneware tiles used for floorings, the furniture pieces are locally crafted in the owner’s workshop. In the offices, everything is designed with modern industrial style in mind: the tables have a rough metal structure, with a natural wood plank on top covered in epoxy resin; the bookshelves are all made of white lacquered wood. For the meeting room, we designed a dynamic bookshelf with orange and white lacquered wood triangular panels, that are arranged with different inclinations to create a scattered surface.
Overall, the construction took a little less than a year, without any major setbacks, thanks to the professionalism and efficiency of Elmi Olindo Plc, which was our greatest ally in the process of achieving our vision.